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Headlines these days, as the kids say, are a dumpster fire. They're bad. Take your pick – it's tough living out there.
I've been thinking a lot about how much personal injury and trauma are ever-present in the news, specifically the trauma of sexual violence.
I'm Hannah Sung, a video producer here at The Globe. Like anyone else reading the news, I've been disturbed by the trauma coming to light in what seems like an endless stream of news stories.
It's there in the spill of tears from Alabama homemaker Beverly Young Nelson as she spoke about assault at the age of 16 by Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. It's in actress Selma Blair's statements as she described how director James Toback threatened to have her killed. And there are the hundreds of thousands of tweets that burst forth from Alyssa Milano's declaration of #MeToo, a flow of energy that originated 10 years ago in the ongoing work of social worker Tarana Burke, who has a very moving story of how she herself first uttered the phrase, "Me too."
Many people were wondering how to take this roiling mess of news and produce positive energy, along with lasting, systemic change.
That's what Canadian actress Mia Kirshner was thinking when she, along with a large contingent of film industry volunteers and professionals, participated in a two-day symposium at The Globe and Mail called #AfterMeToo. What happens after individuals share stories of sexual misconduct? How can we create real change?
I worked with the #AfterMeToo organizers on producing this event. Thinking about solutions meant really examining the problems. Why is the onus on women to come forward? Why don't men – or indeed all of us – hold each other accountable? Why are certain communities of women statistically more vulnerable to violence and specifically, Indigenous women in Canada?
How can we change those systems and centre the experience of survivors?
That's what the roundtable discussions of #AfterMeToo were for, convening trauma experts, lawyers, actors, crew, producers, directors, union reps and more.
Incredible recommendations were brought forth from professional, academic and lived experiences, including establishing an independent body to handle formal complaints and expanding the definition of "workplace" to focus on relationships rather than physical space.
I was especially struck by the work of psychology professor Jennifer Freyd from the University of Oregon. In describing the unsafe conditions in which people report their sexual assaults and harassment, she says there are two classes of harmful responses to recognize.
The first is invalidating a survivor's account with comments like, "Oh, it was so long ago," in a well-intentioned attempt to minimize anxiety.
She has coined an acronym for the second response. "DARVO stands for Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender. This is a pernicious harmful response and you can pick up the newspaper and you find plenty of it," Freyd said.
Reversing of victim and offender is the worst part of this cycle, in which survivors are blamed and their sense of reality is questioned. "DARVO is a perpetrator's strategy and unfortunately our research shows it is effective," Freyd warned. "Not only do we need to disrupt sexual harassment, we need to disrupt DARVO."
Freyd's work gives us the language to speak about so much that has remained unspoken – and unheard.
As Kirshner said in her closing speech, she waited 22 years to be truly heard.
Kirshner was inspired by the work of Robyn Doolittle's Unfounded series (which continues in The Globe today). Doolittle's investigation into how Canadian police forces handle sexual assault cases resulted in those forces reviewing more than 37,000 files as part of a national overhaul of how law enforcement deals with these investigations. Journalism, and public pressure, can lead to systemic change.
But what about culture change? This moment of overdue reckoning is happening now for highly visible individuals who are the tip of an iceberg. Underneath, however, is a submerged mountain that includes people of varying levels of privilege. That submerged iceberg isn't as glamorous as Hollywood, but it's a hunkering status quo that people are rejecting en masse right this minute.
There are so many ways we can recognize our individual power to do the things in our own lives that contribute to cultural change. Actively listen. Don't judge. Hear people. Support yourself with information on trauma and pass it on to the people you love.
It all adds up. Culture change can only work if we all chip away at the iceberg from all over.
What else we're reading and watching:
I loved this interview with Jay-Z opening up to New York Times editor-in-chief Dean Baquet. I've followed Jay-Z's music off and on over the years. What drew me to this interview was hearing from a towering figure of rap discussing therapy and emotions.
So much of our culture asks women to be introspective, to be self-aware, to second-guess and to consider deeply what they do.
Clearly, what our culture needs is for our boys and men to do this as well and we need it in an urgent way. I was drawn to this interview (and Jay-Z's album 4:44, for that matter) for its emotional intelligence on masculinity.
I want to highlight the amazing work being done by two roundtable participants at #AfterMeToo.
Farrah Khan and Yamikani Msosa from Ryerson University's Office of Sexual Violence Education and Support "wear a million hats," providing support to students and faculty who are survivors, such as accompanying them through the process of getting sexual evidence kits done at the hospital or going through the criminal justice process.
They're also a huge aid to friends and family of survivors.
"A day in our life can include parents or partners calling in," explained Khan. "With parents, it's, 'My child was sexually assaulted, how can I support them?' Or it can be partners saying, 'We were having sex last night and she disassociated, how do I support her? I want to have a nourishing sex life that's survivor-centered.' It's awesome to get those calls."
They also stress it's all genders coming into the office because the focus is on survivors and their networks, not gender, which ensures that trans individuals and gay men have resources that speak to them.
"That's been a really positive experience, to have that space where we see folks that traditionally would not come forward and getting support and it's been absolutely wonderful," says Msosa.
Both Khan and Msosa focus a lot of their attention on the voices of marginalized people and collectively have 30 years of gendered violence advocacy work between them.
"The #MeToo campaign is like saying, I'm so happy we're finally talking about it. But the caveat is who is finally talking about it?" Msosa says.
"A number of friends who are survivors and women of colour have said to me it's not validating, it's somewhat triggering because we know this conversation has been going on for a while now, but in certain spaces, and with certain bodies, that when it becomes concrete, that's when it becomes newsworthy," Msosa says.
An important thing to remember as we get caught up in the moment and the movement – let's not leave anyone out of the forward momentum. I'll leave you with this great primer on intersectional feminism we published earlier this year from contributor Brittany Andrew-Amofah.
– Hannah Sung
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